Multimedia Qur'anic Studies

How the Qur’an Was Revealed and Compiled

The following is a video lecture made by Hamza Yusof on July 14th, 1997 and in cooperation with Alhambra Productions. The topic of the history of the Qur’an and its compilation, and forms as part of a “Foundations of Islam” series of lectures. Hamza Yusof gave a good historical background of the Qur’an, its history and how it was Revealed in stages to the Prophet Muhammad(P), its compilation after the passing of the Prophet(P) as well as demonstrating the textual integrity of the Qur’an — as opposed to the textual frailty of the Judeo-Christian text which stands on shaky ground.

Also of interest is the Question & Answer session towards the end of this lecture which we hope our readers will find beneficial.

This video is hosted on YouTube.

Cite this article as: Bismika Allahuma Team, "How the Qur’an Was Revealed and Compiled," in Bismika Allahuma, August 7, 2008, last accessed September 25, 2022,
Qur'anic Studies The Qur'an

The Ahruf of The Qur’aan

Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi

Chapter 10 of An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’aan, pp. 172-183 (1999) , Al-Hidaayah Publishing and Distribution. Compiled by Usman Sheikh


1. The Meaning of the Word ‘Ahruf’

The word ahruf is the plural of harf. Linguistically, ‘harf’ has a number of meanings, including:

1) ‘A letter or a word.’ Al-huruf al-abjadiyya, for example, means the letters of the alphabet.

2) ‘The border, the edge of something, the brink.’ For example, Allaah says,

“And among mankind is he who worships Allaah (as it were) upon a harf (i.e., upon the very edge, or in doubt)” [22:11]

3) ‘To swerve from the truth, to distort.’ Allaah says concerning the Jews,

“…they have displaced (lit., yaharifuna) words from their right places…” [4:46]

Its exact definition in Qur’aanic sciencs is the subject matter of this chapter, and therefore cannot be defined at this point. However, a temporary definition maybe given as follows: The ahruf are the various ways that the verses of the Qur’aan are read. Imaam al-Qurtubee (d. 671 A.H.) said, “Every variation of a word in the Qur’aan is said to be a harf. So, for example, when we say the harf of Ibn Mas’ood, it means the way that Ibn Mas’ood used to recite that verse or word.” 380

Most English authors translate ahruf as ‘modes’ or ‘dialects.’ However, in this book the word will be left in Arabic since the meaning is broader than these translated words.

II. The Number of Ahruf of the Qur’aan

The Qur’aan was revealed in seven ahruf. The proof for this is found in many narrations from the Prophet (PBUH), so much so that it reaches the level of mutawaatir. 381 Jalaal ad-Deen as-Suyootee lists twenty-one Companions who narrated that the Qur’aan was revealed in seven ahruf. 382 Some of these narrations are as follows:

1) Ibn ‘Abbaas reported that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Jibreel recited the Qur’aan to me in one harf, and I recited it back to him, but I requested him to increase (the number of harf) and he continued to increase it for me, until we stopped at seven ahruf.” Ibn Shihaab az-Zuhree (d. 124 A.H.), one of the narrators of the hadeeth, said, “It has reached me that these seven ahruf are essentially one (in meaning), they do not differ about what is permitted or forbidden.” 383

2) ‘Ubay ibn Ka’ab reported that the Prophet (PBUH) was once on the outskirts of Madeenah (near the tribe of Banoo Ghifaar) when Jibreel came to him and said, “Allaah has commanded that you recite the Qur’aan to your people in one harf.” The Prophet (PBUH) replied, “I ask Allaah’s pardon and forgiveness! My people are not capable of doing this!” Jibreel then came again and said, “Allaah has commanded you to recite the Qur’aan to your people in two ahruf.” The Prophet (PBUH) again replied, “I ask Allaah’s pardon and forgiveness! My people are not capable of doing this!” Jibreel then came a third time and said, “Allaah has commanded you to recite the Qur’aan to your people in three ahruf.” The Prophet (PBUH) replied for a third time, “I ask Allaah’s pardon and forgiveness! My people are not capable of doing this!” At last, Jibreel came for the fourth time, and said, “Allaah has commanded you to recite the Qur’aan to your people in seven ahruf, and in whichever harf they recite, they would be right. 384”

3) ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab narrated, “I was sitting in the masjid when I heard Hishaam ibn Hakeem recite Soorah al-Furqaan. I was almost about the jump on him in his prayer, but I waited until he finished, and then grabbed him by his garment and asked him, ‘Who taught you to recite in such a manner?'” He replied, ‘It was the Prophet (PBUH) himself!’ I responded, ‘You are mistaken, for indeed I learnt this soorah from the Prophet (PBUH) and it was different from your recitation!’ Therefore, I dragged him to the Prophet (PBUH) and complained to him that Hishaam had recited Soorah al-Furqaan in a manner different from what he (PBUH) had taught me. At this, the Prophet (PBUH) told me to let go of Hishaam, and asked him to recite Soorah al-Furqaan. Hishaam recited the Soorah in the same way I had heard him before. When he finished, the Prophet (PBUH) said, ‘It was revealed this way.’ He then asked me to recite the same soorah. When I had finished, he (PBUH) said, ‘It was (also) revealed this way. Indeed, the Qur’aan has been revealed in seven different ahruf, so recite whichever one is easy for you.'” 385

4) In a story similar to ‘Umar’s, ‘Ubay ibn Ka’ab also heard two people reciting the Qur’aan in a manner different from what he had learnt. After some discussion, both parties went to the Prophet (PBUH) and recited the same portion to him. He (PBUH) approved of both parties’ recitations. At this point, Ubay narrates, “…there occurred in my mind a sort of denial and doubt that did not exist even in the time of Jaahilliyah (before Islaam)! When the Messenger (PBUH) saw how I was affected, he struck my chest, whereupon I started sweating, and felt as though I were looking at Allaah in fear! Then the Prophet (PBUH) said, ‘O Ubay! A message was sent to me to recite the Qur’aan in one harf, but I requested (Allaah) to make things easy on my nation. A second message came that I should recite the Qur’aan in two ahruf, but I again made the same request. I was then ordered to recite the Qur’aan in seven ahruf.'” 386

5) Ubay ibn Ka’ab narrates that once the Prophet (PBUH) met Jibreel, and sais, “O Jibreel! I have been sent to an illiterate nation. Among them are old and young men and women, and those who have never read any writing!” Jibreel answered him, “O Muhammad, the Qur’aan has been revealed in seven ahruf!” 387

There are many other hadeeth that confirm that the Qur’aan was revealed in seven ahruf, but these narrations will suffice for the present discussion.

III. What is Meant by the Ahruf of the Qur’aan?

Before discussing the answer to this question, it would be useful to mention some points that can be inferred from the above narrations:

1) The different ahruf are all directly from Allaah, and not from the Companions. In all the narrations where the Companions differed from each other, it was clear that each one had been taught directly from the Prophet (PBUH), who was inspired by Allaah. This is why the Prophet (PBUH) said to each one of the ahruf recited by ‘Umar and Hishaam, “It was revealed this way.”

2) The reason the Prophet (PBUH) requested the number of ahruf to be increased was to make the memorisation and recitation of the Qur’aan easier for his Ummah. The Prophet (PBUH) prayed to increase the ahruf because in his ummah were “…old and young men and women, and those who have never read any writing.” Therefore, the limitations of the Qur’aan being in only one harf have been removed by Allaah as a blessing for this Ummah.

3) The Prophet (PBUH) used to teach the different ahruf to different Companions, depending on the condition and situation of that Companion. It can be assumed that the Prophet (PBUH) chose the particular harf to recite to a Companion depending on which one would be the easiest for that particular Companion to memorise, since the purpose of the ahruf was to simplify recitation and memorisation. The Prophet (PBUH) did not teach all the ahruf to all the Companions, for ‘Umar and Hishaam did not know about the existence of the different ahruf. Also, the cause for Ubay’s doubt was the fact that he was unaware of these ahruf, and the Prophet (PBUH) had to pray to Allaah to remove his doubts.

4) The differences between these ahruf were not so great as to prevent recognition of what was being recited. In other words, even though Hishaam was reciting the Qur’aan in a different harf than ‘Umar, ‘Umar could still recognise that Hishaam was reciting Soorah al-Furqaan, thus showing that the ahruf were not radically different from each other. Also, the narration of Ibn Shihaab shows that the basic meaning of all these ahruf was the same.

5) Each one of these ahruf is complete in and of itself. The proof for this is the statement of the Prophet (PBUH) “…so whichever one of them they recite, they are correct.” This is not to say that the ahruf do not complement one another in meaning, but rather that the recitation of the Qur’aan in one harf is sufficient.

6) The number of ahruf is exactly seven – not more, not less. The Prophet (PBUH) asked Jibreel to increase the number of ahruf until Jibreel reached seven ahruf; therefore interpretations to the effect that ‘seven’ indicates an unspecified plurality (this is the opinion of Qaadee ‘Iyaad (d. 504 A.H.)) are false.

However, one narration in the Musnad of Imaam Ahmad states that the Qur’aan was revealed in three ahruf, and yet another narration states that it was revealed in ten ahruf. Some scholars have tried to explain the first narration as meaning that, in the Makkan stage, the Qur’aan was revealed in three ahruf, whereas in the Madeenan stage, Allaah increased this to seven ahruf. Other scholars have given different interpretations to reconcile these hadeeth. 388 However, there is no need to resort to such explanations, since both of these narrations are weak. 389 Therefore, the Qur’aan was revealed in exactly seven ahruf.

7) The revelation of the Qur’aan in seven ahruf started in Madeenah, after the hijrah. In one of the narrations, the phrase, “…while the Prophet (PBUH) was on the outskirts of Madeenah,” indicates that this occurred after the hijrah.

8) A last benefit that can be inferred from these hadeeth (although this is not relevant to the ahruf) is the concern shown by the Companions in the preservation of the correct recitation of the Qur’aan. In all the cases quoted above, the Companions were not content with listening to recitations that were different from theirs – despite the fact that these recitations were said to have been learnt from the Prophet (PBUH) – until they had taken the matter to the Prophet (PBUH) himself.

As for what is meant by these seven ahruf, there is a great deal of difference on this issue. Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276 A.H.) recorded thirty-five opinions on this issue, and as-Suyootee listed over forty. Ibn Sa’adan (d. 231 A.H.), a famous grammarian and reciter of the Qur’aan, even declared that the true meaning of the ahruf was known only to Allaah, and thus to attempt to investigate into this issue was futile! On the other hand, Imaam Muhammad ibn al-Jazaree (d. 832 A.H.), perhaps the greatest scholar of the qira’aat after the era of the salaf, said, “I have sought to discover the meaning of these hadeeth (about the ahruf), and have pondered over them, and contemplated this topic for over thirty years, until Allaah opened my mind to that which is the correct answer in this matter, Inshaa Allaah!” 390

The reason that such a great difference of opinion exists concerning the exact meaning of the ahruf is due to the fact that there does not exist any explicit narration from the Prophet (PBUH), or the salaf, concerning the exact nature of the ahruf; these various opinions are merely the conclusions of later scholars, based upon their examination of the evidences and their personal reasoning (ijtihaad).

Therefore, it should be understood from the outset that to arrive at one specific conclusion, and claim with certainty that it alone is correct and all else is wrong, is pure folly. What is desired, however, is to narrow down the various opinions and eliminate as many as possible based upon evidences.

All of these opinions can be divided into three broad categories, which are discussed in the following sections. 391


In this category fall those opinions which do not have any hadeeth to support them, nor do they make logical sense. Some of these are:

1) Seven different categories of text. For example: constrained and unconstrained, general and specific, literal and metaphoric, naasikh and mansookh. Other categories include those given by grammarians and linguists, specifying different verb forms.

2) An esoteric interpretation by certain Soofi groups, claiming that there are seven levels of knowledge, or seven degrees of meanings to each verse.

3) Seven different branches of knowledge, such as tawheed, sharee’ah, etc.

All these opinions contradict the purpose of the ahruf, namely to make the recitation of the Qur’aan easier for the Ummah. Also, there is no proof for these opinions, and they contradict common sense.


Included in this category are the following opinions:

1) These ahruf are seven different ways to pronounce the words, without actually changing the letters. However, this opinion contradicts the variations in words that occur in the qira’aat.

2) The ahruf are seven types of verses in the Qur’aan: apparent, command, recommendation, specific, particular, general and parable. There is a weak hadeeth to support this.

3) Similar to the above, and also based on a weak hadeeth, the different types are: commands, prohibitions, promises, occurrences, halaal and haraam, clear and ambiguous. 392

4) The seven ahruf are the same as the seven qira’aat. This is contradicted historically, as there are more than seven qira’aat, and the collection and codification of the qira’aat occurred four centuries after the Prophet’s (PBUH) death. 393 None of the major scholars of Islaam held this view, as Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 A.H.) said, “There is no difference of opinion among the scholars that the seven ahruf are not the same as the seven famous qira’aat.” 394

Unforunately, most of the Muslim masses understand hadeeth of the ahruf to refer to the qira’aat.


These opinions are the ones that are worthy of serious inspection, as they have strong evidence historically and from the meanings of the ahaadeeth. There are three opinions in this category.

1) The seven ahruf refer to the seven dialects (lughaat) of the Arabs prevalent at the time of the Prophet (PBUH). Each of these dialects belongs to a tribe among the Arabs, namely, the Quraysh, Hudhayl, Tameem, Hawaazin, Thaqeef, Kinaanah and Yemen. (other scholars gave the names of other tribes). Thus, under this opinion, various verses would be pronounced according to the pronunciation of that particular tribe, and words from one dialect would be replaced by other words used by that particular tribe.

Some scholars say that these seven dialects are spread throughout the Qur’aan, meaning that part of the Qur’aan is in the dialect of the Quraysh, other parts are in the dialect of Hudhayl, and so forth. Others say that the entire Qur’aan is recited in each of these dialects, thus forming the seven ahruf.

This was the opinion of Aboo ‘Ubayd al-Qaasim ibn Sallaam (d. 224 A.H.), al-Bayhaqee (d. 458 A.H.), Ibn ‘Attiyah (d. 541 A.H.) and others.

2) The seven ahruf denote seven ways of recitation (lahajaat) such that words are replaced by their synonyms. In other words, the seven ahruf have the exact same meanings but different wordings.

This was the opinion of Imaam at-Tabaree (d. 311 A.H.), at-Tahaawee (d. 321 A.H.), Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr (d. 463 A.H.) and others.

3) The seven ahruf refer to seven different ways that the verse can be changed. In other words, whenever a difference is found between these ahruf, this type of difference will fall into one of the following seven categories: 359

1. Change in wording. For example, in 101:5, ka al-‘ihni il-manfoosh is changed to ka as-soof il-manfoosh, both of which mean the same thing.

2. Differences in wordings or letters such that they conform to the vowelless, dotless script of ‘Uthmaan. 396 For example, fatabayanoo is changed to fatathabatoo in 49:6, just by changing the dots. Also, in Sooral al-Faatihah, maaliki is changed to maliki without any change in the script of ‘Uthmaan.

3. Change in word order. For example, in 2:159, wa qaatalu wa qutilu is changed to wa qutilu wa qaatalu.

4. Addition or subtraction of a letter or word. For example, in 57:24, fa inna Allaahu hoowa al-ghaniyul hameed is recited without the pronoun, fa ina Allaah al-ghaniyul hameed.

5. The form of the word structure is changed. This change could be from plural to singular or dual (or other variations), or from feminine to masculine. For example, in 23:8, the plural li amanaatihim is changed to the singular li amanatihim.

6. Differences in inflection points. For example, 2:125, wa attakhadhoo mim maqaami Ibraaheema musallaa is read in the command wattakhidhoo.

7. Differences in pronunciation. For example, lessening the effect of certain hamzahs (called tas-heel) or pronouncing certain alifs and yaas differently (called imaalah).

This was the opinion of Ibn Qutaybah (d. 276 A.H.), al-Baaqillaani (d. 403 A.H.), Makkee ibn Abee Taalib (d. 437 A.H.), ar-Raazee (d. 606 A.H.), Ibn al-Jazaree (d. 832 A.H.), and others. Some of them give different categories, but their general thesis is the same.

Among these three opinion, the third one seems to have the least weight. Despite the fact that it classifies the differences in the ahruf into ingenious categories, it does not explain the essence of what the ahruf are. In other words, when Hishaam was reciting a different harf from ‘Umar, he was probably differing with ‘Umar in more than one of these seven categories. Therefore, the third definition does not really answer the question as to the meaning of the ahruf.

The first two opinions, on the other hand, have very strong evidences to support them. 397 It seems — and Allaah knows best — that both of these opinions have an element of truth in them, and there does not exist any grounds for rejecting either of them.

Therefore, it is concluded that the seven ahruf represent variations based upon, but not limited to, the most fluent Arab tribes of that time. These variations occurred in words, letters, and pronunciations, such that all these variations made it easier for the Companions to memorise the Qur’aan. These variations did not always reach seven different ways of recitation for each verse, but whenever such variations existed, the different ways of recitation never exceeded seven. 398

IV. Are the Ahruf in Existence Today?

A very crucial question thata rises is whether these seven ahruf are still present today.

Of course, this question in essence depends upon how one defines the ahruf. For example, az-Zarqaanee strongly argues that all the ahruf have been preserved, but this goes back to his definition that the ahruf represent seven ways that the verse can be changed (opinion (3) above). Thus, since these variations are still present in today’s qira’aat, he argues that all seven ahruf have been preserved. 399 The present discussion will, of course, utilise the definition that was concluded upon in the previous section.

The scholars of Islaam are divided into three opinions with regards to this issue.

The first group of scholars, composed of at-Tabaree (d. 310 A.H.), at-Tahaawee (d. 321 A.H.), Ibn Hibbaan (d. 354 A.H.) and those who follow them, argue that only one harf is in existence today. At-Tabaree holds that the recitation of the Qur’aan in seven ahruf was a concession given to the Companions at the time of the Prophet (PBUH), but when ‘Uthmaan oficially compiled the Qur’aan, he specifically ordered the committee assigned to write the mus-haf to preserve only one harf. He writes, “The only recitation that the Muslims have today is the one harf that their pious Imaam (‘Uthmaan) chose for them, leaving the remaining six.” 400 He is alluding to the statement of ‘Uthmaan to the committee that wrote the mus-haf, “… if you differ in (the spelling) of a word, then write it in the script of the Quraysh.” 401 Thus, according to at-Tabaree and those who follow his opinion, shows that ‘Uthmaan preserved only one harf.

In response to the question, “How could ‘Uthmaan and the Companions purposely have left out the other six ahruf?” at-Tabaree answers: 402

“The seven ahruf were revealed by Allaah during the time of the Prophet (PBUH) to facilitate the memorisation of the Qur’aan, since the dialects of the Arabs were many. This facilitation (i.e., the ahruf) was not necessary to preserve, and eventually there was no need of it. In fact, it became the cause of dissension amongst the Muslims, as those people new to Islaam began arguing over the differences in the recitation of the Qur’aan. Therefore, Allaah inspired 403 ‘Uthmaan to discard the other six ahruf and collect the Qur’aan in one harf, so that the ummah would be united in its recitation. The Companions agreed to this action of his, and the agreement of the Companions is binding on the ummah.”

The second group of scholars holds that all of the ahruf are in existence today, and the mus-haf of ‘Uthmaan was written to preserve all seven ahruf. This was the opinion of Aboo Bakr al-Baaqillaani (d. 403 A.H.), and a small group of scholars. They claim that the Companions would never abandon a recitation that they used to recite during the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH), and that they would not discard any knowledge that the Prophet (PBUH) had given them.

The third group of scholars is composed of Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 724 A.H.), ash-Shaatibee (d. 790 A.H.), ar-Raazee (d. 606 A.H.), Ibn Katheer (d. 774 A.H.), Ibn al-Jazaree (d. 832 A.H.) and others. They argue that ‘Uthmaan preserved the ahruf to the extent that the script of his mus-haf allowed him to do so. Thus, these scholars hold that a portion of the seven ahruf are preserved.

The question then arises: On what basis did ‘Uthmaan decide which portion of the ahruf to preserve? The answer to this is twofold: First, Zayd ibn Thaabit was in charge of the collection of the mus-haf. Zayd had been present when the Prophet (PBUH) recited the whole Qur’aan for the last time, only months before his death. 404 It can be assumed, then, that Zayd was aware of the portions of the ahruf that the Prophet (PBUH) recited, and he must have chosen those to the exclusion of the others. Secondly, the Companions unanimously agreed to discard all readings that conflicted with the mus-haf of ‘Uthmaan. Obviously, they would eliminate only that which they knew was not a part of the Qur’aan, and their consensus is binding on the ummah.

Ibn al-Jazaree (d. 832 A.H.) writes, 405

“The majority of the scholars of the salaf and the later generations are of the opinion that the ‘Uthmaanic mus-hafs contains of the seven ahruf only that which its script allows. (What is preserved) are the recitations that the Prophet (PBUH) recited to Jibreel (during the last year of his life). The present mus-haf contains all this reading, and not a single letter from it is missing.”

The third opinion (i.e., that a portion of the seven ahruf have been preserved) seems to be the strongest one, for the following reasons:

1) The Companions were meticulous in preserving the knowledge that they recieved from the Prophet (PBUH). They understood their responsibility in transferring this vast knowledge to the ummah. It is because of this concern of theirs that detailed information exists about every topic of Islaam, so much so that the Muslims even know how many while hairs the Prophet’s (PBUH) beard contained! 406 Therefore, it cannot be said that the Companions purposely left out six ahruf and preserved only one of them in the mus-haf of ‘Uthmaan without bringing forth some strong, unequivocal proof. Al-Qaaree writes,

“This opinion (that the Companions left out six ahruf) is strange, and extremely weak, for it claims that a part of the Qur’aan was removed by consensus of the Companions, since each of the ahruf is part of the Qur’aan. Therefore, how could ‘Uthmaan, or any of the Companions for that matter, or rather all of the Companions, discard something from the Qur’aan without a clear proof from the Creator? Even if we say that the Companions were given the concession of choosing one harf to recite in, as at-Tabaree (d. 310 A.H.) claims, and they were not accountable for all seven ahruf since it was a concession from Allaah, we say: This concession was given so that they could chose to recite the Qur’aan in any one of these seven ahruf, whichever was the easiest for them. There was no concession, however, in preserving these ahruf, rather they were responsible for preserving all of them… that were not abrogated…” 407

2) The ‘Uthmaanic mus-hafs, as was mentioned earlier, were devoid of dots and vowel points. Since this knowledge was available to the Arabs at that time, 408 it seems likely that the mus-haf was purposely written without these dots or inflection points so that it would encompass different readings, and hence the different ahruf. Also, as was mentioned in the relevant chapter, the script of the ‘Uthmaanic mus-haf was written with specific rules in mind, apparently in order to accommodate the various recitations, and this shows that the mus-haf was written with the intent to preserve more than one harf.

3) If, as at-Tabaree holds, only one harf has been preserved, from where then do the differences in the ten qira’aat originate from? All scholars are unanimous that these ten qira’aat originated from the Prophet (PBUH) himself; therefore it seems apparent that the qira’aat have some integral relationship with the ahruf (as shall be discussed in the next chapter). Concerning this issue, Imaam at-Tabaree is forced to contradict his stance, as Makkee ibn Abee Taalib (d. 437 A.H.) pointed out:

“At-Tabaree concedes to the fact that the various qira’aat that conform to the mus-haf of ‘Uthmaan are a part of the seven ahruf, and this is what we also believe. However, he also claims… that the mus-haf (of ‘Uthmaan) has only preserved one harf, to the exclusion of the other six. These two positions are contradictory…” 409

4) The different mus-haf that ‘Uthmaan ordered to be written were not identicle to each other, for in a number of places, the addition or deletion of a word or letter occurred in some of the mus-hafs. 410 This change is reflected in the various qira’aat in existence today, for within the ten qira’aat, there exist word changes and word additions that could not have originated from the same mus-haf. It seems apparent this was done with a goal in mind, and the strongest conclusion seems to be that, by these differences in the mus-hafs, ‘Uthmaan had intended to preserve the differences in the ahruf.

These same four arguments, however, cannot be used for the second opinion (that all the ahruf were actually preserved), because of that fact that certain variations that the Companions used to recite as part of the Qur’aan are now no longer a part of the Qur’aan (as will be explained in the chapters of naskh and qira’aat). These variant readings can be explained as having been a part of the seven ahruf before the final reading of the Qur’aan by the Prophet (PBUH) to Jibreel. This reading, which took place before Zayd ibn Thaabit, cancelled the ahruf that ‘Uthmaan did not preserve. 411 Imaam al-Qistillaanee (d. 923 A.H.) said, “In this (last) recitation of the Prophet (PBUH) to Jibreel, there were two benefits: First, to strengthen and preserve the Prophet’s (PBUH) memorisation of the Qur’aan, and, second, to affirm those verses that were not abrogated and to indicate which verses were.” 412

V. The Wisdom in the Various Ahruf

Obviously, it cannot be said for certain that exact wisdom behind any Divine act, for the Creator’s knowledge is infinite. However, the scholars of Islaam have said that the revelation of the Qur’aan in seven ahruf had the following benefits: 413

1) To facilitate the memorisation of the Qur’aan. This is the only benefit that is explicitly narrated in the hadeeth. The Arabs did not all speak Arabic in the same way; each tribe and locations had slight variations and peculiarities unique to it. If the Qur’aan had only been revealed in one harf, it would have been difficult for the many different Arab tribes to memorise the Qur’aan properly. However, since the Qur’aan was revealed in seven ahruf, this greatly eased its memorisation. This was of primary importance in its preservation and propagation.

2) To prove the miraculous nature of the Qur’aan. For despite all of these differences, the meanings of the ahruf did not contradict one another, but rather were complementary.

3) To prove the truthfulness of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), for despite the fact that he was illiterate, the revelation of the Qur’aan occurred in different tribal dialects and different words, all of which consisted of the most fluent and eloquent speech of his time.

4) To honour the ummah of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and show its superiority over all other nations. No other nations had been given its book in such a manner, in varying ahruf, to ease the process of preservation. Thus, the revelation of the Qur’aan showed the unique status that the Prophet (PBUH), and his ummah, occupied over other nations. In one hadeeth, the Prophet (PBUH) remarked, “The earlier books would be revealed from one door (of heaven), in one harf, but the Qur’aan was revealed from seven doors (of Heaven), in seven ahruf.” 414

Notes and References

380 Ubaydaat, p. 153.

381 A mutawaatir hadeeth is one that is reported by a large number of narrators in every stage of the chain, so much so that they could not all be mistaken or agree upon a lie.

382 as-Suyootee, vol. 1, p. 45.

383 Narrated by al-Bukhaaree and Muslim

384 Narrated by Muslim.

385 Narrated by al-Bukhaaree and Muslim.

386 Narrated by Muslim

387 Narrated by at-Tirmidhee

388 cf. Itr, pps. 78-80.

389 cf., al-Albaanee, Da’eed al-Jaami’, # 1335 and 1339.

390 Itr, p. 10.

391 cf. al-Hamad, pps. 133-144; az-Zarqaanee, v.1, pps. 137-191; Itr, 122-190.

392 For a discussion of the weakness in the above two hadeeth, see Itr, p. 138.

393 See the next chapter for further details on the qira’aat.

394 Zarzur, p. 186.

395 All of these variations, except for the first, are found in the present-day qira’aat.

396 The manuscript of ‘Uthmaan did not have dots or diacritical marks to distinguish between certain letters and vowels. See Chapter 8, on “The Collection of the Qur’aan.”

397 See Itr, pps. 168-177.

398 cf. al-Qaree, p. 79, and al-Hamad’s conclusion, p. 144, which is very similar to this one.

399 az-Zarqanee, v. 1, p. 170-172.

400 al-Hamad, p. 147.

401 See Chapter 8 for a discussion of the collection of the Qur’aan.

402 Ubaydaat, p. 162.

403 The Arabic is ilhaam, which is the type of inspiration that is given to pious people, and is not the wahy that is given to the prophets. The mother of Moosaa recieved this type of inspiration when she was commanded by Allaah to let Moosaa adrift in the river. Refer to Chapter 3 for more details.

404 Actually, the Prophet (PBUH) recited the whole Qur’aan twice to Jibreel, and heard it from him twice. Some scholars held the view that these recitations of the Qur’aan occurred in different ahruf. See Itr, pp. 263-73.

405 Ibn al-Jazaree, an-Nashr, v. 1, p. 31, with changes.

406 Anas ibn Maalik stated, “I could not count more that fourteen white hairs in the Prophet’s (PBUH) beard and hair.” Reported by at-Tirmidhee in his Shamaa’il, # 31.

407 al-Qaree, p. 71.

408 Although there is a strong difference of opinion over this. See al-Hamad, p.151, where he tries to prove that this knowledge did not exist until the Muslims invented it.

409 al-Hamad, p. 140.

410 See Ch. 8, “The Compilation of the Qur’aan”, for further details and examples.

411 Ibn al-Jazaree, p. 31.

412 Uwais, p. 8.

413 cf. Itr, pps. 216-228

Book Reviews Qur'anic Studies

Criticism of Arthur Jeffery’s “Materials For The History Of The Text Of The Qur’an: The Old Codices”

An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’aan, pp. 384-388 (1999) , Al-Hidaayah Publishing and Distribution. Compiled by Usman Sheikh

Jeffery’s own work is an almost four hundred pages long compilation of the different recitations of certain Companions and Successors who were known to have written mus-hafs. He compiled information regarding fifteen codexes from the Companions, and thirteen from the Successors. By a ‘codex’ he meant mus-haf. He lists all the readings in these mus-hafs that do not conform to the present day mus-haf (although in reality many of them do conform with the mus-haf of `Uthmaan; they are merely different from the mus-haf written in the qiraa’a of Hafs).

Jeffery divides the work based on each codex, and under each codex, he lists, in order, all the verses where a different recitation occurs. The most important and longest of them are the codexes of Ibn Mas’ood and Ubay ibn Ka’ab.

Jeffery compiled this information from over thirty classical Islaamic texts, some authentic and some not. The sources range from classical lexicons, to the famous works of tafseer, to the works on the qira’aat. Unfortunately, for each variant recitation, he did not list the exact reference work that it was obtained from.

To give an example of what Jeffery compiled, we will quote from Ibn Mas’ood’s Soorah Faatihah. He read, according to Jeffery, with the following differences

1) ‘malik‘ as ‘maalik

2) ‘ihdina as-siraat al-mustaqeem‘ as ‘arshidna as-siraat al-mustaqeem

3) ‘siraat alladheena an’amta ‘alayhim‘ as ‘siraat man an’amta ‘alayhim

4) ‘ghayril maghdoobi‘ as ‘ghayral maghdoobi

Jeffery continues in a similar manner for the rest of the Qur’aan. Obviously, what Jeffery is trying to prove is that there are variant readings to the Qur’aan which were not preserved. He writes, “…it is quite clear that the text which Uthmaan canonised was only one out of many rival texts…”; therefore the purpose of Jeffery’s book is to, “..investigate what went before the canonical texts.” 813 His supposition is that the ‘original’ text was tampered with by the Companions, and only one chosen.

There are three points to be made concerning this.

1) On the supposition that Jeffery’s theory is absolutely correct — that the text of the Qur’aan as `Uthmaan preserved it was chosen by him from amongst many variant texts — what are the implications of this from Jeffery’s work? Even if we allow for all these readings that Jeffery compiled to be authentic, and representing legitimate variants from the text of Uthmaan, not a single reading actually contradicts another one in meaning. No verse is added, no ruling contradicted, no law repealed. There are literally thousands of differences mentioned in this book, each one of which merely rephrases a certain verse of the Qur’aan. 814 Therefore, the question must be asked, what is gained by substantiating these ‘variant’ texts? Agreed, if what Jeffery claims is true, this would imply that the actual text of the Qur’aan that is present is only one of a number of authentic texts, but what presumption or theory can be advanced based on this claim? Of course, this is supposing that Jeffery’s basic premise is true, and to this we do not agree.

2) More importantly – and this is the greatest flaw of the book – the authenticity of these recitations has to be established. In other words, how can the reader be assured that these recitations were actually recited? Jeffery himself admits, “The question arises, of course, as to the authenticity of the readings ascribed to these old Codices. In some cases it must be confessed that there is a suspicion of readings later invented by the grammarians and theologians being fathered on these early authorities in order to gain prestige of their name. The suspicion is perhaps strongest in the case of distinctly Shee’ite readings…” 815

From a Muslim standpoint, we have recourse to the isnaad. Jeffery, however, believes the isnaads to hold very little, if any, value. Due to this opinion, he does not quote isnaads for each variant reading. Therefore, in order to find out the authenticity of a certain reading, it is neccessary to go back to the thirty works from which Jeffery compiled his work, verify which one of them mentions this reading, and then check its isnaad for authenticity. (This is supposing that the original work even mentions an isnaad, for some of these recitations are merely referenced in later works without any isnaad).

However, from Jeffery’s own position on the concept and reliability of isnaad, he contradicts himself. If he does not believe in the authenticity of the isnaad system, then from where are all these readings obtained? After all, it is through isnaads that all of the readings of the Companions and Successors has been handed down to us. If Jeffery were to apply his standards and implement his belief of the isnaad system, all of these readings should be doubted, just like their hadeeth counterparts! But, not surprisingly, Jeffery concludes, “On the whole, however, one may feel confident that the majority of readings quoted from any reader really go back to the early authority.” 816 This clear double standard on Jeffery’s part is not surprising; whenever an orientalist finds some information that he feels can be used to discredit Islaam and cast doubts on it, then he will use it, no matter what the context, authenticity or actual implications of the texts may be. As Jeffery so clearly and unabashedly states, “Much of the material given by Ibn Abee Daawood regarding the history of the text of the Qur’aan, though extremely unorthodox, yet agrees so closely with conclusions one had reached from quite other directions that one feels confident in making use of it, however weak orthodoxy may consider its isnaad to be.” 817 Therefore the reason that these narrations are authentic, according to Jeffery, is because they agree with preconceived conclusions that were arrived at from ‘quite other directions’; unnamed and unknown directions, it should be pointed out!

3) The question obviously arises as to the valid interpretation of these variant readings. After all, Jeffery compiled these readings from various books of tafseer and qira’aat. How, then, are they to be explained?

The explanation of these variant readings is very simple, and relies upon the understanding of the ahruf and qira’aat of the Qur’aan, as was explained previously. It is noticed that many of these variant readings are found in the qira’aat of today – the saheeh, da’eef and shaadh ones. If anything, this actually further strenghtens the belief of the Muslims regarding the qira’aat, since these differences have come down to this generation from the Companions, who all learnt from the Prophet(P). The existence of the saheeh qir’aat at the time of the Companions is something that does not need to be proven, but in doing so, Jeffery has ‘confirmed’ that the ten qira’aat originated from the Companions (and hence the Prophet(P)) and not from the latter authorities. An example of this is Ibn Mas’ood’s recitation of ‘maliki’ as ‘maaliki’. As was quoted earlier, this difference is still existent in the authentic qira’aat, thus merely proving their origin. As for those variants which are considered da’eef qira’aat, they cannot be accepted as the Qur’aan, and as such there is no use in quoting such material as ‘variant’ to the text of the Qur’aan, since the authenticity of these da’eef qira’aat is not established. As for the shaadh qira’aat, they used to be recited by the Companions before their recitation had been abrogated. These cannot be considered as part of the Qur’aan anymore, as was mentioned earlier, and thus to quote them as having been left out of the Qur’aan is true, but they were left out at the command of the Prophet(P). Likewise, those recitations that are shown to be authentic but are not a part of the qira’aat, such as Ibn Mas’ood’s reading of ‘ihdina’ as ‘arshidna’, are only examples of the ahruf of the Qur’aan that were not preserved by the command of the Prophet(P).

In conclusion, from a Muslim’s prespective, Jeffery’s collection is only useful insofar as it lists many of the variant readings – the authentic and the inauthentic ones. A critical analysis of the authenticity of each and every variant reading must be established before the book can be of any great value. Also, the variant readings quoted in Jeffery’s book (at least the authentic ones) are all part of the ahruf of the Qur’aan, some of which still exist in the qira’aat, and some of which have been abrogated by the Prophet(P)). Obviously, Jeffery absolutely ignores the concept of the ahruf and qira’aat, for if he were to take this into account, then these readings would be explained without recourse to the theory that the Qur’aan is incomplete. In other words, Jeffery’s work is an example of an Orientalist taking a concept (the concept of ahruf and qira’aat), distorting it, and then presenting it in a sinister light in order to cast doubts upon Islaam. Had he only understood the correct interpretation of this concept – an interpretation that is claimed by him to be “largely ficticious” 818 without any explanation why – it would have saved him the trouble of compiling his work.

The second book in Jeffery’s collection is his editing of ‘Abdullaah Ibn Abee Daawood’s (d. 316 A.H.) Kitaab al-Masaahif. The author is none other that the son of the famous collector of the Sunan, Aboo Daawood as-Sijistaani (d. 275 A.H.). However, he did not enjoy the same prestige as his father, and he has mixed reviews from the scholars of hadeeth. Nonetheless, the book is an excellent reference, and it contains the neccessary isnaads for each narration, so the authenticity of each narration may be ascertained. It deals, as its title indicates, with the mus-haf; it discusses the writing of the wahy, the various mus-hafs of the Companions and their differences; the writing of the mus-haf, and certain aspects of fiqh related to the mus-haf.

Qur'anic Studies The Qur'an

The Qira’aat of the Qur’an

Chapter 11 of An Introduction to the Sciences of the Qur’aan, pp. 184-202 (1999), Al-Hidaayah Publishing and Distribution. Compiled by Usman Sheikh


I. The Meaning of the Word ‘Qira’aat’

The word ‘qir’aat‘ is the plural of ‘qiraa’a‘, which comes from the root q-r-a meaning, ‘to read, to recite’. ‘Qiraa’a‘ means the recitation of something.

In Qur’aanic sciences, it refers to the various ways and manners of reciting the Qur’aan that are in existence today. As Imaam az-Zarkashee stated, the Qur’aan is the revelation that was given to Muhammad (PBUH), and the qira’aat are the variations in the words and pronunciations of this revelation. Thus the qira’aat are the verbalisation of the Qur’aan, and the Qur’aan is preserved in the qira’aat.

Each qiraa’a has its own peculiar rules of recitation (tajweed) and variations in words and letters, and is names after the reciter (Qaaree) who was famous for that particular qiraa’a.